Planting Along Your Garden Borders

Garden borders (Photo by Fort Collins Nursery)

Alex Tisthammer | Fort Collins Nursery

Border plants are like a rug, they tie the room together. They are a great design tool that draws the viewer’s eye along a space, softening or defining edges to create a cleaner look. Certain plants can also solve problems like helping with erosion control and water runoff. When selecting your plantings, consider what you are trying to do with the particular area. 

Most commercial plantings aim for tidiness and definition, giving a clean look and making things easier for a maintenance crew to upkeep. For a setting like this, you would want plants that don’t creep or cascade over. Small, clumping plants like Blue Fescue Grass, Black Mondo Grass, coral bells, or dianthus are suitable in such a setting. These plants grow in compact mounds and will not spread over time. Tall, narrow grasses like Karl Foerster Grass or other feather reed grasses are also great for along sidewalks where you want a simple and uniform mass planting. Their vertical growth habit is space-efficient and will not slump over the sidewalk. 

On the other side of the spectrum, you may want to soften the edges of a hardscape to provide the appearance of the garden bed blending into the pathway. To achieve this look, plant groundcovers like creeping veronica, sedum, or low moneywort that will creep over the edges. Ornamental grasses have their use in this situation, too. Cascading grass blades add great texture to draw your eye along and will break up harsh lines. Japanese Forest Grass, Blonde Ambition Blue Grama, or Undaunted Ruby Muhly Grass is wonderful for this use. With this border planting, adding bulbs along the garden’s edge provides early spring color. Grape hyacinths and daffodils can naturalize over time and fill in nicely. 

If you are planting a bed with a slope with water runoff, Himalayan Border Jewel, Gro-low Sumac, and the Pawnee Buttes Sandcherry are good options. Their broad spread and underground stems help secure the soil, preventing erosion. They all have wonderful fall colors as well. The Sumac and Sandcherry are a little taller, from 18 inches to 3 feet, so these would best be used in areas with taller plants to not block what you have planted behind them. 

Once you have figured out what style you want, start thinking about colors and textures that are present in the rest of the bed and surrounding beds to really “tie the room together!”

Listed below are perennials and shrubs that work well for different garden borders. 


Border Plants for Erosion Control: 

Wine Cups Poppy Mallow


Ice Plant

Himalayan Border Jewel

Pawnee Buttes Sandcherry

Gro-Low Sumac


Border Plants for Sun: 

Basket of Gold Alyssum 


Shasta Daisy

Mount Atlas Daisy 

Self-heal (Prunella)



Wooly Thyme

Blue Fescue Grass

Feather Reed Grass



Border Plants for Low Water:

Hens and Chicks

Orange Trumpet Carpet (Zauschneria)

Leprechaun Artemisia



Blonde Ambition Blue Grama 

Undaunted Ruby Muhly Grass


Border Plants for Shade:


Lady’s Mantle

Sweet Woodruff


Japanese Forest Grass

Black Mondo Grass


Coral Bells

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